A Sense of ‘Humor’

Old Cars Weekly archive – April 24, 2008 issue

old-cars-weekly-flashback

A 1967 Ford F250 ice cream truck still puts smiles on its owners’
and show-goers’ faces

Story and photos by Bob Tomaine

GoodHumor3109bw

Chances are good that the truck seldom ran in bad weather and therefore was at least somewhat protected from rust.

Maya Curto’s Ford isn’t perfect, but it still attracts attention.

“I was driving home one day,” she recalled, “and someone was waving me down. ‘Who’s this crazy person?’ Then, I realized I was in the truck.”

Her truck isn’t just any 1967 Ford F250; it’s a Good Humor ice cream truck. Curto and her husband, Carmine, bought it several years ago and devoted a winter to bringing it back to life. It was original and was complete (“right down to the bells”) when they bought it, but it needed work.

“When we found it,” she said, “it was actually in a garage in the warehouse and it looked pretty run down. It didn’t have any rust or anything; it just needed a little maintenance.”

Mechanically, the truck is about as simple as possible with a six-cylinder engine, an automatic transmission and no power assists, so even major drivetrain problems wouldn’t have been disasters. The freezer, of course, would be another matter.

“That was the main thing,” Curto said, “because if you don’t have a freezer, you don’t have an ice cream truck. It’s useless.”

And that would’ve been unacceptable, since the plan was to return the truck to active service. Curto said that she got the idea to do so when she and her husband hired a similar truck to provide ice cream for their daughter’s birthday party.

“I was going to be 40 years old that year and I figured it would be a good present,” she said. “I actually wanted a convertible and this is what he bought me. I said, ‘That really wasn’t the convertible I wanted.’”

Before being parked, her truck had worked on a regular route in Wilton, Conn. Its first day back on the job was at the Fairfield County Region AACA/HCCA show near her home in Redding, Conn. That’s typical of how the truck is used now, as its days of completing a route on a schedule are over.

GoodHumor3112bw

The Ford was likely delivered as a windshield-cowl chassis to a body supplier that added the freezer.

“Each year, I’ve done more shows and events,” Curto said. “It’s actually been a lot of fun. I do a lot of events and parties and I do a lot of fund-raisers, as well.”

For several reasons, that’s not a bad approach. The biggest point in favor of taking it to a specific location and operating there is that it’s not the easiest vehicle to drive. It’s essentially a pickup, but a very serious pickup whose features are rather basic, to put it mildly. It seats one, has no power steering and is as open in cold weather as it is in warm weather.

Out on the road, the Ford might best be described as ponderous and underpowered. That’s not to say that the truck isn’t fun, but it is what it is. As such, the driver needs to make concessions.

“It only goes about 35 miles an hour,” Curto said. “That’s the one thing I don’t like … It’s very heavy and we carry a lot of ice cream in the truck. We have over 2,000 pieces in the truck at all times and when it goes up the hill, [it’s] like, ‘can’t it go a little faster? Okay, let’s get over the hill now, come on, let’s get over it.’ And in Redding, there’s a lot of hills.”

Leisurely performance is one thing, but much more important is the fact that the truck has proven reliable. That’s no small feat for a vehicle that’s four decades old, has probably spent most of its life in difficult service and hasn’t been restored. The explanation for its continuing ability to work is obvious.

“We’ve maintained it from day one to make sure that everything’s running properly,” Curto said. “I love it.”

The truck doesn’t cover the distances that it did several decades ago, and if it broke down on the road within the 30 or 40 miles it might go today, dealing with it would be not much more than inconvenient. But whether it’s traveling three miles or 100, it still has to keep everything cold. If it doesn’t, as Curto said, it’s useless.

“This one,” she noted, “actually goes down to minus 40.”

That’s cold by any measure and shows that the unit was well designed. Curto explained that the freezer operates on batteries when parked, which sounds logical until it comes to being parked for a very long time, or it needs to be cooled after sitting unused. That’s when the cable comes out and the freezer is plugged in to operate on commercial power.

If the freezer unit has a secret weapon, though, it might be that it’s extremely insulated and thus capable of maintaining a safe temperature for a long time.

“We have had it running [on batteries] for 24 hours without us having to plug it in,” Curto said. “It depends on how the heat is and how much I open and close the doors all day long. It has run for quite a long time. We’ve had it run for two days and it was still cold in there, but then we plugged it in. But we’ve had it unplugged for a couple of days and it’s been fine.”

Commercial freezers are generally rugged, so perhaps it’s not too surprising to find that the one on the Ford can still do the job with ease. That makes it a good match for the rest of the truck; it isn’t fast, but it goes from A to B and returns. What’s a little unexpected, though, is that the exterior lights also remain functional. The fluorescent tubes still produce that odd yellow illumination, and the “Good Humor” sign on the roof still glows.

“Everything lights up at night,” Curto said. “When I drive home at nighttime, I put all the lights on and I ring the bells.”

Beyond the truck itself, there’s the matter of what it represents. Its owners aren’t the only ones who understand.

“I’ve gotten a lot of really nice compliments,” Curto said. “People say ‘This is great. We miss it, we don’t have an ice cream truck in the area.’ It’s nice to bring something back to the people who really remember it… I remember this truck when I was growing up, so I figure that if I remember it, everyone else should remember it.

“The little kids will remember it when they grow up. ‘Oh, I remember that truck.’”

That means the Ford is like a lot of collector vehicles, in that many who see it recognize it. But the truck has another similarity — an owner who protects it.

“I’m really careful with the truck,” Curto said. “It’s 40 years old and I really don’t want anything to happen to it. I baby it. You have to.”

COMMENT